I ran into a (former) seminary classmate yesterday. He was walking into our campus apartment building with his arms full of cardboard boxes; he and his wife were getting ready to move south, onto their next chapter. I held the door for him.
“You all packed up?”
“Almost,” he said, and smiled the way a captain of ship might as it passes another in the night.
I continued on my way but then had a thought and called after him. “Hey- if I don’t see you again, well…then…” Actually, I wasn’t sure what to say.
He looked back at me, still smiling. “God bless you,” he said. And he turned with a nod as I did too.
They left sometime last night. I wasn’t around to see them off.
I keep returning from my runs with inchworms all over my shirt. How they ended up on my person was a mystery to me. So I slowed to a walk during one jog a couple days ago. And I observed an inchworm dangling in the middle of the trail, just below my eye level, attached by an invisible thread to some tree branch up above, waiting for someone, something, to come by.
I had a nightmare the other night in which my wife died. I woke up and reached for her in the dark. She was there, but was she breathing? I sat up and leaned over, my hand reaching to check her pulse.
“Wha- what…babe? What are you doing?” Ah. There’s that pulse.
“Uh, nothing…go back to sleep.”
She gave me a look, like I was up to no good, like I was ten years old and she was my brother and myself and Stephen Banich were sneaking into his room in the middle of the night to paint his fingernails bright pink before the morning of his first football practice. But her eyelids were heavy and she was soon back asleep.
Which was convenient. Because how on earth could I possibly explain? I thought I’d lost you; my heart was about to explode inside my chest?
We were on a walk this evening, and I couldn’t help but notice that the parking lot outside our apartment looks somewhat ominous: there’s moving trucks parked where minivans used to be, storage containers occupying our neighbor’s parking spot.
And I felt a little bit like an inchworm.
All day and all night these little creatures dangle and flail about, waiting for something to come by, waiting for the wind to blow, waiting to find something solid, something steady, something secure to which they can hang on. And when they (finally) find something, when they think the world has stopped spinning madly beneath their feet, they find it pulled from under them again.
It makes me feel a little heartless at how quickly I just flick them off, onto the concrete or pavement. But they had a good go of it, I tell myself. This is the way of things.
And then I pass someone in the hallway. And I think about the classes we had together, the time we were in the same group for a project, and the couple of movies and dinners shared in his apartment. We weren’t incredibly close- but a small corner of my world is attached to his. And he’s getting ready to pack it into boxes.
We shed as we pick up, Tom Stoppard once said, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms. Perhaps I should have offered to help carry a box.
What a world it is that God has made. A world that spins, evolves, moves from season to season, arrives and departs, from dust to dust. Life is a short and fevered rehearsal, A.W. Tozer once said, for a concert we cannot stay to give.
As we walked into our building I took my wife’s hand. This world may scare. But there’s something to be said for the hope that, wherever we land, whatever we latch onto for however long a period of time, it’s just a shadow of where we’ll one day stand.
Which should be of comfort, I suppose. Comfort as we cling to shadows that then slip away, into the night of today. Because the sunrise is coming, and it will shine like a million candles in the darkness. And every shadow we’ve held, every love we’ve lost, every corner of our world we’d seen packed into boxes and whisked away, it’ll be there, waiting again for us to hug, cherish, admire, have and hold.
It sounds like a distant dream. But the inchworms, panicked love, and move-out dates of the world fan the flames of its desire.
It may be all we have. But there’s much to be said of it, I’m sure.